Note: Bloc Reporter Iman Smith currently interns at Northwestern High School in the “Writing for Change” course and chose to share her experiences as a service-learner. Her articles will be published in a series leading up to the final performance, which will be held May 1 at the University of Maryland. Click Part 1 to read the first of the series.
By Iman Smith, Bloc Reporter
Carly Finkelstein, a Northwestern High School English teacher, has seen a positive change in ninth-grader, Samaiya Johnson, in part because of the College Buddy visits.
“For a while Samaiya was really argumentative,” Finkelstein said. “She didn’t want to do the work.”
On Thursday, a day after the usual College Buddy visits, Johnson decided to change her attitude, Finkelstein said.
“All of a sudden, Samaiya was like ‘I’m ready. I’m going to do everything. We’re going to get along now,’” Finkelstein said. “It’s been three weeks and Samaiya’s a rock star.”
Johnson said she chose to alter her attitude to better herself academically. “I noticed that my grade was dropping,” she said, “and the best thing that I could do to bring it up was to be better in her class for me, my grades and also her.”
Johnson said the College Buddy visits have helped boost her performance in the classroom. “You get to talk to the College Buddies about the topic [bullying] or converse without doing work,” she said. “You get to express yourself.”
The final performance titled, “Catching Stones: The Battle Against Bullying,” features numerous student-created pieces such as dance, spoken-word, film and dramatic composition.
Jasmine Campbell, a junior family science major, said her students’ performance discuss being bullied because of one’s appearance or sexual preference.
“The buddy doing appearance has her topic,” Campbell said, “because growing up she was bullied for her appearance. Her poem talks about how no matter what you look like, we are all equal and it shouldn’t matter.”
Another NHS Buddy chose to examine issues LGBT students face, Campbell said.
“She actually uses really strong words in her poem,” she said. “One of her lines says ‘can someone tell me the meaning of faggot?’ I wasn’t sure if I should let her use that word but I’m going to because it’s real.”
George LaValle, a senior English major, said his students’ creative pieces are unique.
“One girl in our group just spontaneously wrote a page and a half of a personal narrative one day,” he said. “It’s kind of interesting—the things they’re coming up with.”
Josselyn Morales, a ninth-grader and NHS Buddy, said she’s thrilled to perform at the University of Maryland.
“I’ll get to see how college looks like,” Morales said, “and see how big it is.”
Johnson said she’s feels a mixture of exhilaration and unease. “I don’t like talking in front of a big crowd,” she said, “but I’m excited because I’m about to be in a play, and I’m about to be performing in front of a lot of people.”
Campbell said she’s unsure her collaboration with the NHS students will leave a lasting influence.
“Everything in me wants to say ‘yes, there is an effect on them that will last,’” she said, “but another part of me needs to understand, especially if I’m going into this work, that is not always the case.”
LaValle said the final performance will not be momentous. “We’re not changing the world by putting on a dramatic production with high school students,” he said. “We’re hopefully having an influence on the high school students that we are working with.”
The College Buddies’ efforts have positively influenced her, Johnson said. “[The visits] let me know more about college people and what I have a better chance of looking forward to,” she said.
The final performance is significant for it symbolizes hard work, ninth-grader and NHS Buddy, Camille Jackson, said. “It [the final performance] means that we finally get to tell our message,” Jackson said. “Hopefully people get the message and it gets to the surface of peoples’ thoughts.”
The message Jackson notes is definite. “I want to promote that bullying is never okay, that it has horrible and serious consequences,” she said, “and that we should just be nice to each other.”